In a recent post, I wrote about how sixth graders are such a unique group of students to teach due to how much they vary. In this post, I want to share ideas on how I help these students find success in their academic careers while also helping them develop into wonderful young adults.
- CHOICE – I find that giving any grade level students choice is a great thing. However, 6th graders especially appreciate getting a say in their education. My sixth grade class is part of the elementary school, and they realize that in many districts they would be part of the middle school or junior high setting. This sometimes causes them to still feel like “babies”. I give them as much choice as I can throughout the year. During the first week they help me determine classroom jobs, they can choose from various final projects when we finish a unit, and I even let them vote on how the holiday parties are run. During weeks like Christmas I give the students options for the types of activities we will do or the books we will read. This gets them to buy in and does wonders to keep them interested!
- Model being wrong – In today’s world, it seems like we see “perfect” everywhere – internet, TV, magazines, etc. It’s important for our students to realize that truly being perfect doesn’t exist. Many of our students do not have great role models, so it is up to us to show them that it is alright to make mistakes. At the beginning of the year, I tell students that we are all there to learn – including me! I ask them to help me realize my mistakes in the same, kind manner that I would point out theirs. This is a huge community-building activity in my classroom, and the students really love “getting” me! 🙂
- Give them an “OUT” – I’ve noticed that in sixth grade, relationships are HUGE! (duh, right?) Students either want to continue to fit in with their current peer group, or they are trying to get into the “cooler” peer group. (I have yet to run into a student who is ok being their own person at this age. I always hope they’ll get there during their high school years!) Sometimes I allow students to “blame” me if they need an extra moment or two to compose themselves. Now, don’t get me wrong, students are held responsible for their actions. But if there is a way for them to save face and say that I made them do it, I’m totally ok with that! Sixth grade is hard enough without your peers making fun of you! Often I will pull kids aside to give them some type of “out” – perhaps I’ll say I need them to help me with something at recess if I know they are having social problems. However, they know they can tell their peers that I am “making” them stay inside. This allows them to save face. (This is not something I do on a regular basis, but this age can be tough. If I can tell a student is having a particularly rough day, I feel this is one way I can help them out. Oftentimes a phone call or e-mail home is needed if this option is given, not because the student is in trouble but because something is obviously going on.)
- PATIENCE – This one seems incredibly obvious, but I’ve found there are days when sixth graders are simply “off”. Hormones can be all over the place in middle schoolers, so sometimes rather than get upset with the class for having a horrible case of the giggles, it’s simply easier to join them. (I’m not suggesting to do this on a daily basis, but I think every good teacher knows when they are fighting a lost cause!) The lesson can continue at a later time.
- Cut them a little slack! – I have a grading policy where I throw out the lowest grade each quarter for each subject. I’ve seen some teachers and administrators who are against this because students earn the grades they earn, but I also realize that we all have bad days. I feel this is even more true in junior high. Sometimes students simply aren’t “with it” on a particular day, and I don’t want to punish them. Plus, I cover all the standards multiple times, so throwing out one poor grade isn’t going to hurt anyone.
- Bathroom – All teachers know that “I-gotta-go-now” look, but sometimes by 6th grade the students have mastered faking that look just to get out of class. I do my best not to deny bathroom privileges to the students, particularly the ladies. In my room, the students are given one individual bathroom break daily (they sign out), and I also allow them the opportunity to use the bathroom about three other times during the day as a group or in small groups. A second bathroom policy that I have it another “out” for students. Sometimes if I can tell a student is upset, I’ll call them into the hall for a quick minute to help me with something, have a short chat, and send them to the bathroom to regain their composure. They know they have five minutes to get back to class. I’ve actually had students stay after school to tell me they appreciated me letting them go “get over it” and join their classmates without anyone knowing what was up.